Kellyanne Conway’s Nordstrom kerfuffle has taken a predictable turn: The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) advised the White House this week to “investigate Conway’s actions and consider taking disciplinary action against her.”
Said kerfuffle refers to the “free commercial” that Trump’s presidential adviser gave for Ivanka Trump while speaking in an interview with Fox & Friends in the White House briefing room last week.
The OGE’s letter came after House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent a joint letter in a rare showing of bipartisanship to OGE Director Walter M. Shaub Jr. The letter requested that the OGE recommend possible disciplinary action against Conway, writing that her actions “clearly violate the ethical principles for federal employees and are unacceptable.”
“As the director of OGE, you have the authority to review potential ethics violations and notify the employee’s agency, which in this case is the White House,” the letter reads.
“In this case, there is an additional challenge, which is that the President, as the ultimate disciplinary authority for White House employees, has an inherent conflict of interest since Conway’s statements relate to his daughter’s private business,” wrote Cummings and Chaffetz.
Shaub agreed, apparently. Via the OGE letter:
On the morning of Thursday, February 9, 2017, the hosts of a news program interviewed Ms. Conway from the White House’s James S. Brady Briefing Room. She was unquestionably appearing in her official capacity. She used that interview, however, as an opportunity to market Ms. Trump’s products, stating, “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff, is what I would tell you. I hate shopping, I’m going to go get some myself today.” Shortly thereafter, she added: “This is just a wonderful line. I own some of it. I fully—I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today everybody, you can find it online.” As Ms. Conway made these statements, she appeared on screen in a tight frame between the official seal of the White House and the American flag.
These facts, if true, would establish a clear violation of the prohibition against misuse of position.
In fact, as Shaub pointed out in his letter on behalf of the OGE, Conway’s conduct is virtually identical to a hypothetical that the OGE offers on its website as an example of what not to do:
I note that OGE’s regulation on misuse of position offers as an example the hypothetical case of a Presidential appointee appearing in a television commercial to promote a product. Ms. Conway’s actions track that example almost exactly.
Shaub also pointed out that although Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a press briefing that Conway had been “counseled,” the OGE had not been informed of “any disciplinary or other corrective action” against her.
That’s because there likely hasn’t been any. And, frankly, there likely won’t be—because Trump appears to have no problem with what Conway did.
Trump was reportedly irritated that Spicer even mentioned that Conway had been “counseled,” whatever that means.
Via the Associated Press:
The president appeared to take issue with his own press secretary’s depiction, telling staff that he believed it was unfair to Conway and made it sound like she was in trouble, according to a person with direct knowledge of his comments. A White House spokeswoman said that while Trump didn’t see Conway’s television comments urging people to buy Ivanka Trump’s products, he believed she was “merely sticking up” for his daughter after Nordstrom dropped her brand.
So what happens next?
Shaub’s letter gives the White House until February 28 to notify the OGE of any findings from an investigation into Conway’s actions, and any disciplinary or other corrective action taken against her. But should the White House ignore the OGE’s letter and refuse to conduct an investigation—or if the White House conducts one and determines that what Conway did was no big deal—then it is unclear what happens next.
This isn’t exactly a normal administration that follows institutional norms or such trifles as “ethics rules.” So my guess? Conway gets away with it.